Jesus was a "bad" man
Updated: Jun 4
“If Jesus was a human being, he must have had flaws, inconsistencies and hypocrisy in his moral system, just as does every other human being.”
Hector Avalos, a professor of Religion at Iowa State University, believed Jesus to be a bad man. He claimed Jesus was unloving, hateful, violent, suicidal, imperialistic, anti-Jewish, anti-feminist, anti-disabled, anti-medical and anti-Biblical. He also claimed Jesus was an enemy of the poor and hostile to the environment. Wow. If all this is true, Jesus would have been quite an unsavory character.
Those of you who have read the New Testament might be wondering where Avalos came up with these ideas. They hardly seem to be in keeping with the Jesus of the Bible. Let’s start by learning more about Hector Avalos.
Who is Hector Avalos?
Avalos was a man whose profession seemed to contradict his beliefs. Though he taught courses in the Bible at Iowa State University for over two decades, he believed the “only mission of biblical studies should be to end biblical studies as we know it.” Though he was a professor of religion, he was anti-theistic and considered belief in God to be immoral. Though he taught New Testament courses, he saw Christianity as an imperialist empire and believed Christian ethics should be ejected from college campuses! And, while he explored the subject of God with students in class, he founded the Iowa State atheist society.
All of this seems odd. It’s a bit like having a physics professor who is morally opposed to belief in physics, condemns it, and contends that it should not be taught! Why on Earth would this person be teaching physics? It certainly would not be to advance the knowledge of physics.
Hector Avalos’ motive for teaching subjects that he was opposed to is perhaps only known to Hector Avalos. However, what is certain, is that he embraced the label of “New Atheist” and did not hide his opposition to God, religion and the Bible.
Why Avalos claimed Jesus was a “bad man”
To claim Jesus was a bad man is most unusual – even for an atheist. Prominent atheists of the past spoke highly of Jesus’ morality. Many modern atheists do as well.
Bertrand Russell, who didn’t think Jesus to be “the best and wisest of men,” did acknowledge that Jesus possessed “a very high degree of moral goodness.” Richard Dawkins also acknowledged Jesus’ morality. H L Mencken and Christopher Hitchens even claimed Jesus’ moral code was too strenuous to be obeyed! These atheists recognized Jesus’ superior moral code and his moral example. Where, then, does Hector Avalos get the idea that Jesus was bad?
Avalos’ logic is based on a few key assumptions. First, he states that, if Jesus was a real person, the New Testament is not a real depiction of what he was like. Second, he assumes Jesus was merely a man. And, third, since all men do bad things, Jesus must have done bad things too.
Was Jesus only a man?
Even Jesus’ followers acknowledge that he was a man. He was a historical person who lived in the Roman province of Judea in the 1st century. That he lived is attested to by Jewish and Roman historians and by Jewish and Greek theological opponents. However, Jesus’ followers concluded that he was much more than a mere man.
As his followers compared Jesus’ life to the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah – the promised King of Kings – they were floored. Jesus seemed to fulfill them! But there was more. Jesus’ moral code was astonishingly pure. His life was exemplary. His teaching possessed a moral authority before unseen. Over a three-year period of time, Jesus’ followers observed Jesus’ life, heard his teachings and experienced the extraordinary.
They heard a voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus to be God’s son. They saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove. And, they saw him transfigured in blazing glorious light with the prophets Moses and Elijah. Then there were the miracles.
Jesus healed the sick – lepers, the blind, the crippled, the lame. Jesus turned water into wine. He walked on the Sea of Galilee. He calmed a storm by commanding it to be still. He fed thousands with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. He cast out demons. He even raised the dead – three times. How could a mere man do these things?
To dispel any doubt about his identity, Jesus told his followers that he would be executed by the Romans and rise from the dead three days later. That’s what Easter is all about – his followers insist he arose as he said he would. They claim they saw him alive over a forty-day period and that they saw him ascend up into heaven.
Avalos disregards the claims of Jesus’ divinity as mere inventions. To him, Jesus was just a man.
Avalos’ case for a Bad Jesus
Avalos didn’t claim Jesus was bad without evidence. Though he claimed the New Testament accounts of Jesus life to be historically unreliable, he used them as evidence. Here are just two points in his case.
“The Hateful Jesus” – Avalos cites Luke 14:26 as proof that Jesus commanded his followers to hate. The verse states:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
If you fail to read what comes before and after this statement, it does sound quite harsh. However, context matters.
In the preceding verses (Luke 14:16-24), Jesus told a parable of a man hosting a huge banquet. When the banquet was ready, the man sent notice to all those who had been invited that it was now ready. Unfortunately, the invited guests now had excuses for not attending – I just bought a field, I just bought some oxen, and I just got married. So, instead of these invited guests, the man invited people who would truly appreciate a lavish banquet – the poor, the blind, the crippled, and the lame. The point of the parable was, if you reject me and my generous banquet, I’ll invite others.
In the verses that follow Luke 14:26, Jesus told the large crowds following him that they should test their own desire to follow him and what it could cost them. That’s when he said, if you’re going to build a tower, you first calculate the cost so you’ll know you can finish it. And, before a king goes to war, he sizes up the cost of victory before he decides to commit to battle. The point is simple: if you want to follow me, count the cost first – it will cost you.
It turns out, Jesus’ statement was prophetic. He knew his followers would be persecuted and they were. They were rejected by their families, banned from their local synagogues, and betrayed to the Romans just as Jesus said they would be. Following Jesus cost them their families, their property and even their lives.
So, did Jesus advocate hate? Hardly. He told his followers to love their persecutors and those who deemed them to be enemies. To claim that Jesus advocated hatred in Luke 14;26 seems to ignore the context and meaning of the passage and all of the things Jesus taught about love.
How would Avalos respond to this? He would likely say my response was “another euphemistic attempt by New Testament ethicists to whitewash the hegemonic, despotic, egomaniacal and unethical view of submission that Jesus was demanding.”
“The Anti-Jewish Jesus” – Avalos also claimed that Jesus was anti-Jewish. This is strange indeed.
Jesus was Jewish. He was a descendant of Abraham, observed and affirmed the laws (mitzvahs) in the Torah, participated in the local synagogue, worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem, and observed Jewish feasts, fasts and festivals. He was Jewish in genealogy and in religious beliefs. And, the “crime” for which he was executed by the Romans was acknowledging that he was the King of the Jews.
Where did Avalos get the idea that Jesus was anti-Jewish? He cites one verse in the New Testament and it’s quite a stretch – John 8:44. This verse is a part of a series of interactions between Jesus and a Jewish crowd. Some in the crowd contended that Abraham was their father. Jesus responded that, if Abraham really was their father, they would live like Abraham did. However, because they were seeking to kill Jesus, their real father was the devil. His point was for them to live and believe like Abraham – not the devil. There is really nothing anti-Jewish in this narrative.
Avalos seems to have overlooked several major themes found in the gospel of John. The big one we're all familiar with is that God loved the entire world so much that he sent Jesus (his son) to die for us. That includes Jewish people. A second, is that Jesus came to us – the people he created – but most of us didn’t recognize him as God and rejected him. This rejection included many in his own nation – Israel – whose leaders sought his execution. It also included the Romans, whose provincial governor approved the execution. Jesus didn’t reject Israel, its leaders, or even the Romans. They rejected him.
What was Avalos’ final argument, after citing only one verse in the New Testament to support his claim of Jesus being anti-Jewish?
“The refusal to admit that anti-Judaism may be attributed to Jesus, even if he was Jewish, is more the product of Christian theological apologetics than it is the result of rigorous critical scholarship.”
About Hector Avalos
Hector Avalos (1958- 2021) earned a PhD from Harvard University and was a Religious Studies professor at Iowa State University for over two decades. He taught courses in biblical languages, New Testament, Old Testament, Bible, and religion in Latino literature. He was vocal advocate of atheism and considered himself to be a New Atheist. He died in 2021.
Copyright 2022 by Patrick Prill
Photo purchased from iStock
 Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015) 29.  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus  Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007), 15.  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus, 13-14.  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus, 379.  https://www.philrs.iastate.edu/directory/hector-avalos/  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus, 13.  Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 5.  Richard Dawkins, Atheists For Jesus, https://www.rationalresponders.com/atheists_for_jesus_ a_richard_dawkins_essay  H L Mencken, Treatise on the Gods (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1946), 234-235.  Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great (New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2009), 213.  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus, 10-11, 29-30, 194, 374  Luke 14:26, The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984)  Luke 21:12-19  John 15:18-25  Matthew 5:43-48  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus, 89.  John 8:12-59  John 3:16-17  John 1:9-13, John 12:42-43. Some Jewish leaders, such as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, were followers of Jesus.  John 18:28-40 and 19:1-16  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus, 195.  Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus, 13-14., 13-14.